When Everyone is Stuck

Workforce turnover has dropped by a third, leaving employees trapped in roles they may not like. What’s a good leader to do? 

After five years on the job, the employee could do her job in her sleep. Her enthusiasm had slipped, but she still got her work done, with exemplary performance in key areas and enviable institutional knowledge. Observing all of this, her manager wondered: Did she want to be there? How could he keep her motivated? 

This is the norm for nearly all managers: 19% of employees are actively applying and interviewing to leave their current roles within the next three months, and an additional 49% are considering other job options, according to the Korn Ferry Workforce 2024 Report. Yet at the same time, voluntary job turnover has dipped from 17% in 2022 to 12%, according to data from Aon, meaning that people are interested in moving on—yet stuck. “There’s nowhere for them to go,” says Deepali Vyas, global head of the FinTech, Crypto and Payments practice for Korn Ferry. “The job market is so tight that there are very few positions, and not a boatload of opportunities.” 

The situation, which has been exacerbated by recent inflation spikes and increases in costs like groceries, is making employees feel stuck. Rather than gamble on joining an organization as the newest employee (and the first to go in a recession), many workers are reluctantly opting for dependable income, says Dennis Deans, Korn Ferry’s vice president of global human resources: “They’re buying time.” This is a headache for any manager who seeks engaged, enthusiastic employees. 

The first step to addressing the matter, say experts, is determining whether employees are there by choice. “You don’t want employees there only because no one else wants them,” says organizational strategy expert Maria Amato, a senior client partner at Korn Ferry. She advises managers to focus on creating roles that make employees want to stay. Another strategy: Offer lateral moves, which allow for career development, says David Vied, Korn Ferry's global sector leader for medical devices and diagnostics. This approach can require a bit of employee education, as most workers assume that they should always move upward. But lateral moves can be particularly valuable at top firms, where employees know they already have one of the best jobs in the field, and “people get really stale in their roles,” says Vied. “They’re bored, and their efficiency diminishes.” 

Experts also advise focusing on ways to offer advancement and continued progression. This is an opportunity for conversations about expanding or restructuring current roles, says engagement expert Mark Royal, senior client partner at Korn Ferry. “Let’s think about the tasks on an employee’s plate, and see if we can structure them around maximizing contribution and long-term growth.” This can be particularly useful for employees under 30, who often say that their roles don’t allow them to exercise their full abilities, according to the Korn Ferry global employee-opinion database. 

When in doubt, flexibility remains king: It’s the number-one priority among employees, according to the Korn Ferry Workforce 2024 Report.


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